Many people who suffer from epilepsy report that a medication derived from the marijuana plant doesn’t get them high but does prevent seizures, and after parents lobbied for their sick children to have access, Virginia’s legislature signed off. Now, those parents want the General Assembly to legalize manufacture and distribution of cannabidiol or CBD oil as Sandy Hausman reports.
About 3 million people in this country have epilepsy – a condition marked by seizures. As a pediatric neurologist, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor treats some of them, and he says uncontrolled seizures can be disastrous.
“These are devastating to children and to families," says Ralph Northam. "It’s not just the seizures that they’re having but the anti-epileptic medications one aren’t working as well as we’d like them to, and two, they have tremendous side effects.”
Beth Collins knows that first-hand. Her teenaged daughter has been treated with many different drugs without success, and some produced terrible side effects.
“One of the medications causes anger outbursts that are often quite violent, depressions, suicidal thoughts,” she says.
So when she heard about cannabidiol or CBD oil, a medication derived from marijuana, she and 15-year-old Jennifer left their home in Virginia to live in Colorado, where they could give it a try.
“We just got a report back from an EEG she had in the last month where her neurologist said not only was she having significantly less seizures but for shorter periods of time.”
“I feel great!," Jennifer adds. "It’s worked so well.”
After months of living away from family and friends, they came back to Virginia and lobbied the legislature to let Jennifer use CBD oil here. Last year, lawmakers said okay, but it’s not legal to transport the medication across state lines, and Collins wants the assurance provided by a pharmaceutical company.
“We needed to have her source of medicine come from somebody we trusted," Beth Collins explains. "Even in states where it’s legal, there’s not a lot of testing, so you don’t know really what you’re getting.”
So her state senator, David Marsden, agreed to sponsor a bill that would direct the Board of Pharmacy to draft health, safety, and security requirements and allow a processor to manufacture cannabidiol.
When Senate Bill 701 came before the Courts of Justice Committee, most members favored it, but chairman Mark Obenshain at first refused to bring the bill up for a vote. Frustrated parents noted that a prominent lobbyist had been hired by an out-of-state company that hopes to make and sell cannabidiol – a fact that did not escape bill sponsor Marsden.
“Certainly," Marsden says. "I knew that the business interests were there, and I’m sure Altria and other companies have expressed interest over time. This is a business that has a future in this country.”
Puzzled parents wondered if maybe that company wasn’t ready to do business in Virginia and hoped to block competition by killing the bill this year? Obenshain refused to discuss the matter, the lobbyist did not return our call, and we were unable to reach the company’s CEO, but David Marsden thinks the committee chairman had other concerns.
“A perfectly legitimate view that it was the camel’s nose under the tent towards recreational use of marijuana some day.”
In the end, parents gathered nearly a hundred signatures in Obenshain’s district supporting the bill and Beth Collins made a personal plea. It came to a vote, was approved by the committee and the full Senate.
The bill is now in the House, where Delegate Rob Bell’s committee is set to consider it.
“The federal rules make it hard to legal do what they want," Bell says. "We’re trying to find them a way to get them what they want while having as few violations of federal law as possible.”
President Obama has ordered that no money should be spent enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use for medical purposes.